Solar Sprint Teaches In Subtle Way

DOE volunteer Garrett Hatakenaka (left) prepares to signal Laie Elementary student Rachel Shumway to start her test race April 18 at HECO's 2013 Solar Sprint at Kapolei High School. Photo from HECO's Janet Crawford.

Sun power and brain power were put to the test this spring during the annual Solar Sprint exhibition at Kapolei High School, where hundreds of seventh- and eighth-graders raced their handmade, model solar-powered vehicles.

Supported by a mini photovoltaic panel and a small electric motor, each entry had to travel a 20-meter course within 20 seconds – that’s about three feet per second. Students could add lead weights to attempt the 35-second race as well.

“Students are seeing more solar water heating and solar electric panels on homes in their neighborhood,” explained Laie Elementary sixth-grade science teacher Barbara Jean Kahawaii. “So when they see the mini solar panel that will power each model vehicle, they make the connection and see the relevance of what they’re learning.”

Regardless of their “real” learning, the students enjoyed bringing their designs for the lightweight, bare-frame racers to life.

And the lesson (shhh!) was all about energy. “Educational programs such as the Solar Sprint demonstrate Hawaiian Electric’s support for renewable energy,” said HECO project administrator Cybil Rawlins. “We want to help teach students how the sun’s energy is converted into useful electrical energy.”

Sponsored by the DOE and HECO, the April 18 races also attracted teams from Kahuku High and Intermediate, Wheeler and Waipahu intermediate schools, and Niu Valley and Kapolei middle schools.